Genealogical roots of gang members and leaders, discussion of the history and legacy of street gangs, motorcycle gangs, Mafia families, and crews in New York City: all five boroughs; and neighboring areas of Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut.
- Please join us by collaborating and adding your public profiles to the Project. Document uploads are more than welcome, too.
Organized crime has long been associated with New York City. The Irish-Americans have the distinction of being recognized as the ethnic group to organize the first street gang intherear of a grocery store, in the Five Points District; or as it is currently known, Mulberry and Baxter streets, in lower Manhattan. The members of the gang called themselves the Forty Thieves. There was also the Roach Guards in the Five Points in the 1820s. It is further alleged that the second organized street gang to appear on the scene was also of Irish origin. The called themselves Kerryonians. Their membership was limited to young lads whose heritage could be traced to the county of Kerry in Ireland.
As early as 1850, New York City recorded more than 200 gang wars fought largely by youth gangs; some going as far north as 108th Street.
The 20th century saw a rise in the Mafia dominated by the Five Families and they still are the largest and most powerful criminal organization in the city. Gangs including the Black Spades also grew in the late 20th century (around 1967). During the 1970s, a Bronx-wide gang war spread to the other boroughs. Peace meetings tried to end the violence, but were disrupted internally or externally. See Hoe Avenue peace meeting - Wikipedia - Hoe Avenue gang truce meeting, 12/7/71. Hip Hop music came along, and the music calmed angry souls. The music was used by breakdancers in face-offs and block parties. Eventually the hardcore gangs fizzled out. The most prominent gangs in New York City today are the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, and MS-13.
Partial List of Famous People Who Were Gang Leaders (in alphabetical order):
- Al Pacino
- Vin Diesel , actor, was a member of SATAN'S REAPERS a Brooklyn graffiti gang.
- Piri Thomas
- Claude Brown
- Dharuba or Dhoruba, (born Richard Moore, 1945) is an African-American writer and activist, who is a former prisoner, Black Panther Party leader, and co-founder of the Black Liberation Army; he had been a member of the Latin Crowns in the Tremont section of the Bronx.
- Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture; he was the only black member of the Morris Park Dukes, a youth gang involved in alcohol and petty theft in the Tremont area of Morris Park in the East Bronx, at that time an aging Jewish and Italian neighborhood; Black Panther Leader, AAPRP Leader, a Trinidadian-American black activist active in the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement, etc.
- In his youth, Sonny Carson, as a leader of a gang called the Bishops, Carson developed the streetwise qualities and charisma that made him, even in recent years, popular with many young people in neighborhoods like Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant, his associates said. (Newsday, Oct. 18, 2002).
- Nicky Cruz; a president, vice president, and war councilor of a notorious and vicious Fort Greene, Brooklyn gang, the Mau Maus, an experienced thief and mugger, and a hardened and violent street criminal—all before he reached 18. From 1955 to 1958, the Mau Maus were one of the most feared of all New York City gangs -- making headlines regularly. (By the way, a member of the Mau Maus helped the Capeman murder a young man in Hell's Kitchen in Aug. 1959).
- The original Dion and the Belmonts were: Dion DiMucci (lead vocals), Carlo Mastrangelo (baritone/bass vocals), Fred Milano (tenor vocals) and Angelo D'Aleo (tenor vocals). Carlo and Freddie were members of the Imperial Hoods while Dion was a Fordham Baldie.
- Joseph A. Fernandez; school drop-out and gang leader; Superintendent of New York City Board of Education.
- Larry King; The judge told him to get a life. So he did!
- Burt Lancaster; East Harlem; Gymnast, Circus Performer, Actor, Producer. He was part of the Kay Brother Circus. He made over 60 movies. He, also, was an avid art collector. (Source: AMC informational clip, Jan. 6, 2002).
- Felipe Luciano; Young Lords (Party) in East Harlem; Motivational speaker.
- Norman Podhoretz; writer; In 1948, he was 18, and a member of the Cherokees. (see Schneider, Eric; "Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings").
- Russell Simmons; warlord of the 17th division of the Seven Immortals, Jamaica, Queens; Entertainment Coordinator, Producer.
- Al Capone "Capone was a tough, scrappy kid and belonged to the South Brooklyn Rippers and then later to the Forty Thieves Juniors and the Five Point Juniors.
- Colin Powell; a member of the Lightnings on Kelly Street, near Southern Boulevard and 163rd Street, in the South Bronx; he went on to become Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and presently is Secretary of State.
- Jim McGowan, In 1951, Jim McGowan had been stabbed in a Bed-Stuy rumble. A former member of the Four Fellows vocal R&B group. He is an author specializing in the history of the Underground Railroad, etc.
- John Gotti - After leaving school he devoted himself to working with the Fulton-Rockaway Boys, Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens.
Gangs in New York City
Around Apr 1, 2007, "ochosimomi" told us, "The "Copians" was a early big black gang from the 40's and early 50's with chapters in Harlem (Manhattan), South Bronx and in Jamaica and Corona (Queens) and other areas. You had a white gang in Brooklyn called the Copians but I don't know if they were connected."
"Generations of teen-age Harlem Negroes have belonged to block gangs. Their rough-&-tumble rivalry, their extortion of five-cent tributes from nonmembers, has been a part of Manhattan life since saloons were gaslit. But war brought a disquieting transformation in packs of adolescent Negroes began to arm themselves with clubs, "switchblade" knives and crude, home made pistols. In the past few months they have gradually begun to terrorize the law-abiding folk of Harlem, who no longer sit so peacefully on their bedding-draped fire escapes, and fear to walk home from a dish of "rice & ribs" at the restaurant.
Gangs with names like Ebony Dukes, Imperial Huns, Pals of Satan, Slicksters, the Mysterious Fives, race the streets, stabbing, fighting, hunting lone members of the opposition. One hot evening a fort night ago two gangs, the Chancellors and the Copians, set a pattern for more formal battle in the street outside Harlem's Colonial Park.
The Chancellors left a dance in the park, walked stiffly down a flight of stone steps, and stopped at the sidewalk under a street light. The Copians stood silently at the opposite curb, half hidden in the shadow of a brick building. The Copian emissary, a 16-year-old named George Christy, walked toward the enemy. The Chancellors circled him, voices rising.
Then a Copian threw a milk bottle. As it crashed a Chancellor screamed, "Light him up!"*
A pistol slammed three bullets into Christy. Both groups disintegrated into dodging forms and the dark street filled with the flash and roar of confused gunfire. Police from the park and from a cruising car ran in, shooting. When it was over a 15-year-old boy lay dying from five police bullets, a revolver in one hand. Four other youths were bleeding on the pavement; two with their jaws shattered by slugs fired at point-blank range. A Negro police officer was swaying, with bullet wounds in his belly.
Last week fifteen Copians and Chancellors had been rounded up. They confessed that the battle had stemmed from an argument over a stolen cap. The police had to turn twelve of them loose for lack of evidence. Extra detectives, sent into Harlem to keep a day & night watch, doggedly made arrests, kept the streets quiet. But the law-abiders wondered how long the uneasy peace would last. Said a Negro taxi driver: "I walk the long way home. Those boys don't care for nothing."
- Harlemese for "shoot him." ( "Light Him Up!" N.Y. Times, Jul. 31, 1944 ).
Chapter Two of "Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings," by Eric Schneider, entitled "Discovering Gangs: The Role of Race in the 1940s," pp. 62-64.
The first gangs mentioned in Sept. 1945, IN BROOKLYN were Saints, Falcons, Bishops, Beavers, 627 Stompers, Robins (rivals to Bishops), among other names.
Mousetown area, Upper West Side of Manhattan near City College (white clubs)(pp. 64-65): Hancocks, Rainbows, and Irish Dukes.
Harlem (p. 65): Negro Sabres, Socialistics, and Chancellors.
Morrisania (spring of 1945)(pp. 66-67): Jackson Knights (a white gang), and Slicksters (an African American gang).
Concerning the late-1950s and early 1960s, I had interviews with Joe Fitzgerald, the doo wop announcer, Nov. 9, 2005, Jan. 21, 2006, and May 7, 2011. He lived in Astoria, Queens, NY. One of the first things he mentioned was the Big Five--five of the biggest gangs in the late fifties: Egyptian Kings, Chaplains, Saints, Sinners, and another that skipped his mind. "bradday3"'s group from Ozone Park and Woodhaven in Queens, were the Saints who were an Irish, Italian gang, with a few Polish. We had our beefs with East New York gangs like F&P (Fountain & Pitkin), and the group from Highland Park in Brooklyn. This was 1959-62. The Saints were indeed one of the big five gangs (especially in the Queens area).
- ** By the way, I have a question for any member. Were these Saints connected with the ones in the Bronx in anyway!? Because the 1950's Bronx-based Saints gave birth and rise to the 1970's ones.
"The way I look at it, and I'm sure you'll agree, is like this: If we don't get this information in the open, then it will be lost to the ravages of time. And that's a shame because although the gang days are often dark (after all they do involve murder), they are nonetheless very interesting.
As for my expertise (and I humbly use that word very loosely), it can only be linked to New York City gangs from 1955-1959, although there is some very limited overlap pre-1955 and post 1959.
Although I can't speak authoritatively on the Brooklyn Saints' gangs being affiliated with other Saints' gangs from other boroughs I do have a couple of comments to make about it.
I think what happened is the Saints were a big gang, and a notorious gang. This of course spreads throughout New York and whenever a new gang sprouts up they like to establish a "rep" for themselves thus taking on names of gang with turbulent histories. A great example of this is the Dragons. There were many Dragons' gang all over NYC.
Another way for it to happen is if a Saints' gang member moved to another borough he would start a new gang up in his area taking his old gang's name. In essense they would all be allied, and might even talk from time to time, but from what I have come across, gangs would not venture into other boroughs very often. They were too worried about defending their turf. The fear and unexpecation of venturing into other gang's turf, much less in another borough was often too much to bear. Hope I have been able to shed some light on this." (David "newyorkgangresearcher", Jan. 23, 2006).
"I would like to add to what you have about the Saints. This is gleaned from what I have learned by research and interviews. (see my other post about writing a book about New York City gangs).
The Saints near the Queens-Brooklyn border were in constant clashes with the Brooklyn gangs, among them the Halsey Bops and Tots (under 18). The Saints were also divided up into divisions with Seniors and Juniors separated.
There were about 1,000 to 1,500 Saints gang members from all of Queens. They were named according to the neighborhood they were from. For example there was the Woodhaven Saints, Ridgewood Saints etc. (then depending on the size of each gang, they were separated according to age. i.e. the Junior Ridgewood Saints).
In 1960, the Junior Saints had a number of zip guns in their possession and even a rifle. They were enemies with the Halsey Bops and had them in their sights for a big ambush only to have it broken up by the cops.
In May of 1961, an F&P gang member was beaten by the Ozone Park Saints. On May 10, the F&P gang went to rumble with the Ozone Park Saints. On the way to the rumble they saw some youths playing baseball and asked if they were Saints. Denying this the boys said they were part of no gang (I'm not sure if that's true or not).
Angered, one of the F&P boys hit one of the boys playing handball. John Panico, 15 asked why they hit him. Then Dennis Lubchuck, 15, plunged a knife into the chest of Panico. He died. Also arrested with Lubchuck was Paul Pope, 16, Vincent Lepani, 16, James Beckling, 16, Angelo Dispenzari, 17, Frank Zabrocki, 17, and Martin Leis, 17. (paraphrased from NYT, May 11, 1961).
I'm not sure if you remember this or were part of this particular Saints gang, but if you did, it would be great to hear from you about it. Also, if you are interested I have a picture of some F&P gang members." (David "newyorkgangresearcher", Jan. 21, 2006).
Outside New York City
Historical Gangs of New York City
- Historical gangs in New York City, specifically those of the Bowery and Five Points districts. Many of these topics were described in Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of New York and fictionalized in director Martin Scorsese's the 2002 film, Gangs of New York.
- Eastman Gang
- Five Points Gang
- Lenox Avenue Gang
- Pages in Category: Historical Gangs of New York City
- 19th Street Gang
- 40 Thieves
- Bowe Brothers
- Bowery Boys
- Dead Rabbits
- The Ducky Boys
- Gopher Gang
- Grady Gang
- Hudson Dusters
- Kerryonians existed in New York about 1825, one of the earliest organized crime gangs. The members headquarted on Center Street (now Worth St.) at Rosanna Peer Grocery Store. The Kerryonians spent most of their time mugging and beating up English.
- Patsy Conroy Gang
- Plug Uglies
- Rhodes Gang
- Roach Guards
- Shirt Tails
- Swamp Angels
- White Hand Gang
- Yakey Yakes
Historical Female Gangsters
- Sadie the Goat, Charlton Street Gang
- Hell-Cat Maggie, Dead Rabbits
- Battle Annie, Gopher Gang
- Gallus Mag, bouncer for the Hole-in-the-Wall saloon
- Books and Resources on Female Gangs
Links and References
add your links!
- Yahoo! Group: NYC Gang History
- Gangs of New York (Film)
- New York City Gangland
- [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vice_(magazine) Vice (magazine)]
- [http://kingklast.proboards.com/index.cgi? NY Street Gangs From The 60's-80's Forum]
- Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings
- Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York
- Early Gangs G-L, From the Desk of Larry D. Thompson.
- "They All Sang On The Corner: A Second Look at New York City's Rhythm and Blues Vocal Groups," by Philip Groia; Published by Phillie Dee Enterprises, Inc., Port Jefferson, New York, 1983, Tenth Printing, October 2005.
- AN INTERVIEW ABOUT GANGS, WITH DAVID PELT
- New York City Fighting Gangs
Kenneth Kwame Welsh is now cooperating and being interviewed by a researcher and writer in New York City. (Feb. 4, 2012). We have looked at an enormous amount of newspaper and magazine articles. Much of this material will be used for upcoming posts here at this project.